October 28, 2018

The Space Force and the FAA

I'm going to step a bit out of my usual wheelhouse and talk about the proposals for a Space Force coming out of DC recently, and why I don't think they're a good idea. Don't worry, this will end up back at ships.


Naval capabilities like this Tomahawk strike are dependent on space-based support

First, let's get one thing clear. Space capabilities are tremendously important to the US military. The ability of satellites to gather intelligence and provide reliable communications and navigation anywhere in the world is absolutely critical to making them what they are. These capabilities are increasingly threatened by Chinese and Russian anti-satellite weapons of various kinds, and making space forces more visible and independent is probably not a bad idea.

But the proposals to set them up as a completely separate service go too far. First, there's the bureaucratic overhead. Currently, most of the space mission is handled by the USAF, and can essentially piggyback on the infrastructure of that storied service. Separating it out is going to mean more accountants, more administrators, and a new uniform selection board that decides to follow the fashion trends of between 5 and 25 years ago about every five years.

Second, this sets up exactly the wrong organizational incentives for the space forces. Space is vital to our capabilities precisely because it provides critical support for those at the sharp end on land, air, and sea. But military forces do not like being in support. They want to be at the sharp end themselves, and will adopt all sorts of weird policies to make sure that they, and not other services, stay there. If we set up a space force, within a decade we'll be hearing about why reconnaissance satellites and comms are all useless, or should be handled by commercial providers, so that the Space Force can spend more money on a new Orbital Laser Battle Station. Even if Orbital Battle Lasers, cool though they are, are still really a couple decades away from maturity.

The author of Ecclesiastes said "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun", and so it is in the defense world. In 1918, the British decided to concentrate all of their aviation assets under the newly-created Royal Air Force, including those of the Royal Naval Air Service. Even the aircraft which flew from ships would be bought and manned by the RAF. Initially, this wasn't a big deal, as the RNAS had made up a significant fraction of British air strength, and the war kept everyone focused on the important things, like killing the Germans. During the interwar years, however, a major funding crunch lead the RAF to aggressively promote the idea that strategic bombing could and would win wars, unaided by ground or naval forces.1 This meant that forces not dedicated to bombing or resisting bombing got cut. Naval aviation, in the form of the Fleet Air Arm (which flew off of ships) and Coastal Command (which flew land-based maritime aircraft) suffered particularly badly. Initially, Coastal Command's main mission was support of the bombing offensive, while the FAA was saddled with obsolescent airplanes and a doctrine which did not prioritize fighters or the large air wings found to be necessary when war broke out.2

Problems continued during the war. The FAA's primary fighter early in the war, the Fairey Fulmar, was an adaptation of a light bomber best known for getting shot down in massive numbers over France. Design resources were concentrated on land-based fighters, and the most effective fighters of the FAA were either adaptations of land-based designs or USN designs provided under Lend-Lease. Coastal Command also struggled, as the same types of aircraft were necessary for hunting submarines in the mid-Atlantic and bombing Berlin. Even at the height of the U-boat offensive, Bomber Command refused to transfer aircraft. It was pointed out that the Germans probably wouldn't notice if the British sent 900 planes over Berlin instead of 1000, but this argument was not enough to dissuade Bomber Harris from his ineffective, wasteful and morally dubious attempts to destroy the morale of Germany's workforce.3

In the US, which had not moved naval aviation under the all-powerful control of the Air Force, things were rather different. The USN and USAAF were often at loggerheads over the distribution of aircraft, most notably over who would control the land-based anti-submarine squadrons, but a compromise was reached in that case and US Naval Aviation never faced the same kind of political threat that Coastal Command or the FAA did.


A satellite groundtrack map

None of this is to say that the current situation is perfect. Space is increasing in importance, and the fighter jock mafia has been in total control of the USAF since the end of the Cold War.4 A friend who was involved in the USAF space community told me of being in a meeting where the highest-ranking officer, a former fighter jock, asked how many Gs the satellite was pulling in the turns on a groundtrack chart.5 This sort of thing could be solved by making it easier for the Space Operations community to rise and share their expertise with the rest of the Air Force. But it doesn't take a separate service to do that.

Reminder: The blog comment rules ban Culture War. Please stick to the topic at hand.

1 This wasn't entirely unique to them. Lots of people worldwide believed that strategic bombing could destroy enemy industry with precision or that civilian morale would collapse immediately under bombing. Neither proved to be true, and historians still argue over the effectiveness of the bombing campaigns, although general consensus is that the British bomber offensive in Europe was not very good.

2 I'll discuss the details of this at some point. It's a fascinating story, but one not really in scope here.

3 This campaign, which was basically useless, should be distinguished from those of the US forces, who generally were aiming at military effects, and achieved them to a degree since minimized by opponents of strategic bombing.

4 Before that, the center of the USAF was SAC, the famous Strategic Air Command. The destruction of that organization has done damage to our nuclear forces that is still not repaired.

5 For those who don't immediately get why this is such a bizarre question, the satellite is pulling 1 G (yes, it is, but it doesn't feel it), and those turns are the result of the satellite's orbit being inclined to the equator.

Comments

  1. October 28, 2018redRover said...

    DHS and some of the alphabet soup intelligence agencies seem like other interesting cases in how organizational structure impacts mission, particularly for places like USCG.

  2. October 28, 2018Neal said...

    Well said Bean. Certainly we need to "grow" space--no question of that. We all now realize that space is mission critical not only for the DoD, but ever increasing swaths of civilian life and commerce. Soon, if not already, it is indispensable.

    But to cleave off another service when the AF has had this in their lane and then have to deal with the problems you describe? Nah...

    Let us be smart about capabilities, threats, vulnerabilities, etc. before we start the money suck that this would entail.

  3. October 29, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Can I at least assume the G-force question was a bit of ill-informed idle curiosity and not an attempt to gauge the overall worth of the satellite in question?

  4. October 29, 2018bean said...

    @ADA

    Probably. I had never even thought of the idea that he was trying to gauge its worth by how many Gs it could pull.

  5. October 30, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Is there no good way to enforce a support role on a service?

    Like suppose that all of Space Force's activities, from R&D through craft construction to operations, were funded and conducted on a contract model with one or more of the other branches (or maybe an intelligence agency) as client. Space superiority and strategic orbital bombardment would be part of the Air Force's mission, which they'd place Space Force contracts to achieve.

    The result is that the Space Force might argue that OLBSes are more important than comms and recon, but they'll have to convince one of the other branches in order to actually move resources that way. The USAF would probably undervalue space superiority and orbital bombardment relative to stuff they command directly, but that's no great loss for the foreseeable future. If these things do become essential, transitioning Space Force into an independently-funded branch would be a lot easier than creating it from scratch--though you'd have to contend with the risk of this happening prematurely.

    (if the British had done this to their Air Force, I'd expect naval affairs to have gone much better and the strategic bombing campaign to have been minimal to nonexistent, and also probably better close air support for the Army, at a grievous cost to their strategic air defense which neither Navy nor Army would prioritize until the Blitz was upon them)

    (admittedly this doesn't address the bureaucratic overhead issue at all)

  6. October 30, 2018bean said...

    I don't think that would work. The problem is that it's not really any different from funding the Space Force directly under the budgetary model we use. Congress doesn't just give the services a big pot of money and tell them not to spend it all in one place. I don't read defense appropriation bills myself (although it might be a good idea the next time I have insomnia) but particularly big-ticket things like this will definitely be decided in Congress and not by the services. So instead of the Air Force asking for the Space Force to get more commsats while the Space Force asks for an orbital bombardment constellation, you'll have the Air Force asking for a contract for commsats, while Space Force says the USAF should contract for the bombardment constellation.

    I'm not sure about the British, either. The RNAS was in charge of air defense against Zeppelin raids, and presumably the RN would have kept the role, or funding authority for the role, and done a decent job of it. And you'd have the RAF arguing to make the RN and Army pay for strategic bombers, instead of just arguing for them directly.

    There's also the accounting issues of overhead payments, but that's not something I'm really qualified to speak on.

  7. October 31, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    So what prevents the space department of the USAF from telling Congress we need OLBSes? An intra-service prohibition on going over superiors' heads, enforced by the fact that your stories are the ones who decide when you get promoted? I guess I could see how that would work.

  8. October 31, 2018bean said...

    That's most of it. Telling Congress something greatly at odds with the service's official line is going to be career-limiting in the extreme. I suspect there's some fighting around the edges in front of the various Armed Services committees, but the General/Sky Marshall that Space Force sends is going to have a lot more freedom than the representative of Air Force Space Command, even if it's the same person who was representing AFSC last year.

    Also, here is a link to the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act, in case anyone wants to take a look at how the DoD actually gets its money, and with what strings attached. Or wants a good treatment for insomnia. (It worked pretty well for me last night.)

  9. October 31, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Thanks for that link, actually! I wouldn't attempt to read it straight through, but reading the table of contents and sampling random items is pretty illuminating as to the granularity of Congressional authorization.

    Thinking this through some more, I reinvented the concept of a Unified Command, discovered that they already exist, and that moreover that a Unified Command for space is actually established in that same Defense Authorization Act, which I didn't know was a thing at all.

    What's your thought on that (assuming it doesn't actually lead to a Space Force)? It sounds like a pretty reasonable way to unify space efforts while still leaving everyone involved answerable to one of the existing branches and also avoiding most of the overhead of a new branch. Plus it's a reestablishment of a command that existed before, which suggests it's at least not totally crazy.

  10. October 31, 2018bean said...

    Oh, it’s absolutely not something to read as if it was a book. But I’ve never looked at one before, and I learned a thing or two, not least about how many reports and certifications they demand in these things.

    Reestablishing Spacecom is definitely the way to go here, and you did sort of reinvent the UCC (which I didn’t recognize because I’m allergic to that kind of thing). There used to be one, but it got rolled into Stratcom in 2002 because they didn’t want to go over 10 UCCs and were standing up Northcom. Not sure what the thought there was.

    The big difference between a UCC and a contracted service is loyalty. The head of Spacecom wants Spacecom to gain power, but he's Air Force (probably) at heart. He's not going to cause a huge flap by trying to buy bombardment constellations because he's essentially running a support command, in the same way that TRANSCOM hasn't tried to take over.

    I have a friend who’s thinking about explaining the whole UCC thing in more detail here.

  11. October 31, 2018ADifferentAnonymous said...

    Right, I didn't mean that contracted service == UCC; I meant to say that I reinvented the UCC while formulating a revised proposal.

    I'd definitely be interested if your friend makes that post!

  12. November 03, 2018cwillu said...

    Inertial trajectories are 0g; number of Gs pulled is a measure of how much you're deviating from inertial. Straight and level flight is 1g because you're typically nowhere near orbital velocity and therefore there's a short and rather hard limit on how long you can follow the 0g inertial trajectory.

    Alternatively: seatback trays being a useful thing in aircraft, but not so much on the ISS.

    Unless of course I'm completely mistaken, but I'd give ten to one odds on ten dollars that I'm right on this one :p

  13. November 03, 2018bean said...

    You'd lose the bet, although I'm being unusually idiosyncratic in that comment. I'm well aware of how microgravity/free fall works (my degree is in aerospace engineering). If the spacecraft was truly experiencing no forces and 0 G of acceleration, then it would travel in a straight line, not orbit. A circular orbit is mechanically the same as tying a rope to the satellite and swinging it around at the speed at which the resulting acceleration is equal to the gravitational acceleration at that altitude. It's just that gravity pulls on everything together at the same weight, so you feel weightless.

  14. November 03, 2018cwillu said...

    By that definition, an object falling from a tower is also experiencing 1g. I'm not arguing that gravity isn't experienced in orbit, but rather that pulling on everything the same feeling is exactly the topic of interest.

    A person in orbit around a denser planet such that they underwent nine times the gravitational acceleration is not going to black out from the 9g's they're undergoing, agree? To the extent that that is the technical definition, I'd argue that the technical definition is, maybe not faulty, but divorced from the understanding of enough people to matter.

    But at the same time, I'd argue that such a definition is in fact faulty. Standing on the top of a building, I'm undergoing 1g, agreed? When I step off the roof (in a vacuum, for the sake of pedantry), you would say I'm wrong to claim that I'm now experiencing 0g, but rather that I'm still experiencing 1g, correct?

  15. November 03, 2018bean said...

    It depends on your frame of reference, which in turn depends on what you're doing. Most people other than the astrodynamicist would agree that it is in zero G. But in this case, we are looking from the astrodynamics side, and gravity is the only thing that matters.

  16. November 03, 2018cwillu said...

    In this context, an ex-fighter pilot was asking how many gees were being pulled :p

  17. November 03, 2018bean said...

    Granted, and in that context there isn't a good answer. From the perspective of someone looking at the spacecraft from the outside in a stationary reference frame, it's accelerating at basically 1 G. In terms of someone on the satellite, it's 0 G. It depends on what you're doing, and I'll cheerfully admit to choosing the former to be weird. In no case is the satellite deliberate accelerating.

Comments from SlateStarCodex:

  • bean says:

    Naval Gazing is now a year old!

    Also, I’ve just published my take on the proposed “Space Force”. The short version is that it sets up organizational incentives which are likely to lead to neglect of the parts of space that are valuable in favor of stuff that looks cool but isn’t necessary.

    Also, I plan to finally end posting regular links here. It’s been a year. I will still post occasional links, when I think I have something particularly interesting, but maybe just in the whole-number OTs.

    • Deiseach says:

      The short version is that it sets up organizational incentives which are likely to lead to neglect of the parts of space that are valuable in favor of stuff that looks cool but isn’t necessary.

      Any chance that by concentrating first on the stuff that looks cool, this will then capture public interest once again and help justify the boring uncool but valuable stuff?

      • bean says:

        Probably not, because those aren’t really complimentary. The boring uncool bits are things like communications and recon satellites, while I refer to the cool stuff as Orbital Laser Battlestations. If public enthusiasm for OLBs results in the Space Force getting more money, Space Force leadership doesn’t have much incentive to pour it into better communications for the terrestrial forces. They do have every reason to build more OLBs.

        • woah77 says:

          Which is what I would have really wanted anyways. I mean, with enough OLBs do you even need those communications for the terrestrial forces?

          • albatross11 says:

            Only if you need your military to be able to do something besides destroy targets from orbit.

          • woah77 says:

            But I mean with truly enough OLBs, there shouldn’t be any targets, right?

          • bean says:

            I can’t totally disagree with you on this. Really good orbital lasers are incredibly powerful, and change the ground combat game a lot, at least in hot war terms. And when I think the technology is ready for useful OLBs I’ll be an enthusiastic supporter of the Space Force. But we’re not even close to there yet, and we’ll get better value from other ways of applying military force for the foreseeable future.

          • woah77 says:

            That’s entirely fair, Bean. Until we have the Terawatt lasers required to shoot through atmosphere and do significant damage to terrestrial targets, the OLBs aren’t especially helpful. But that’s why we need to throw lots of money at that problem, isn’t it?

          • bean says:

            That’s entirely fair, Bean. Until we have the Terawatt lasers required to shoot through atmosphere and do significant damage to terrestrial targets, the OLBs aren’t especially helpful. But that’s why we need to throw lots of money at that problem, isn’t it?

            I’m not even opposed to throwing reasonable amounts of money at the problem. What I’m afraid of is that we’ll throw a bunch of money at high-power orbital lasers (terawatts, though? What are you planning?) and neglect our comsats. And then lose a war with China because we can’t talk to our carriers and the orbital lasers aren’t ready.

          • woah77 says:

            Ah, well… with enough OLB they might be able to double as communication satellites, thereby giving us two purposes for three times the cost.

          • albatross11 says:

            Would this use IPoD? (IP over Demographics)

          • woah77 says:

            I wish I could answer that, but if I were capable of doing so I’d be certainly required to covertly remove anyone who observed the answer.

          • Deiseach says:

            Only if you need your military to be able to do something besides destroy targets from orbit.

            Why ever would I want anything else?

          • bean says:

            @woah77

            You could theoretically dual-role the OLB as a comsat, although it’s going to be in the wrong orbit to be really good at that. If you have a phased-array laser, it would be a really good optical comsat, but it would have to chose between doing that and being a weapon, which tends to make people nervous.

            @Deiseach

            Maybe you’re trying to stop someone smuggling weapons, but don’t want to just sink all ships. You need boots on the deck to inspect. The orbital laser is great for making the ship want to stop, but not particularly useful for checking that the crates marked “agricultural equipment” aren’t full of guns.

          • James C says:

            I’m struggling to think of a single current US military commitment where a strategic laser would be better than terrestrial forces. Seriously, the US already has the power to blow up anything they dislike with about six hours notice, and look how effective that has proved. Strategic space weapons would be fantastic against another army in the field, but when was the last time you saw the US fighting one of those?

          • cryptoshill says:

            The US hasn’t had to fight a real force in the field because – well, the Alien Gods of the TLAM Strike can just choose that you don’t have a right to exist anymore. The problem is that if you stop spending money on that kind of thing – your ability to not fight huge conventional wars is reduced.

            That said – I liked the idea of putting all the US Space assets under one organizational roof, because there was a lot of functional duplication between the services for managing comsats. If we remove some % bureaucracy in exchange for paying x% more to get OLBs sooner than we really needed them – there might be a net budgetary savings.

          • bean says:

            If we remove some % bureaucracy in exchange for paying x% more to get OLBs sooner than we really needed them – there might be a net budgetary savings.

            I really doubt that comsats are enough of the military budget for that math to be remotely viable.

          • Why all this talk about lasers? When I was last watching this conversation, some decades back, it was smart crowbars–a smaller version of Heinlein’s rock throwing in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

          • Protagoras says:

            @DavidFriedman, Depending on the design of the lasers, it’s possible that with a good power source they may not have to worry about ammo. Also, while it would be insanely difficult to intercept smart crowbars, it’s not absolutely inconceivable. You might, for example, be able to vaporize one with a laser and let the hot metallic gas disperse in the atmosphere. On the other hand, it’s impossible to see a laser coming.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Smart crowbars” run into the problem that anything moving that fast, that low, will be surrounded by a plasma sheath dense and hot enough to block most any plausible source of terminal guidance data. So most likely blind, deaf, and dumb crowbars.

            If you’re looking to do WWII-style strategic bombardment from space, and if you can deliver the requisite mass to and from orbit, that works fine. For anything requiring precision, we may have to wait on OLBs.

          • bean says:

            @David

            First, I should remind everyone that lasers were just an example, not a prediction. In fact, thinking it over now, I my actual prediction is that Space Force would start talking up the benefits of Rods from God, and try to get the “smart crowbars” built. I get a minimum of 5 kg for tungsten and 14 kg for iron from my notes, and John does a good job of pointing out the guidance problems. But it’s a really expensive way of destroying targets, and not nearly as responsive as you might think, unless you have a lot of satellites.

            @John

            I do have notes about various tricky ways to get signals through the plasma, and we shouldn’t discount somewhat bigger rods that slow down enough to stop having a plasma sheathe, then guide the rest of the way down. Less efficient, certainly, and probably not a good idea unless you’re invading another planet, but I could definitely see a Space Force trying to sell them.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well gosh darn it, bean, now I want my Space Force Orbital Laser Battlestation! 😀

          woah77, that’s a platform I’d vote for: more money for terawatt lasers research!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Thanks bean, that was a good read. Do you think a Space Force could be useful if they only did OLBs and left the other branches to maintain their own satellites like how the navy still operates their own planes?

      • bean says:

        What OLBs? In the context of the immediate future, the OLB is a thing that Space Force is trying to buy because it’s cooler than existing satellites, but that doesn’t actually do much. I’m not sure why you’d set up a Space Force in that context. Right now, the USAF manages pretty much all military satellites, even though the USN is a bigger user of comm bandwidth. (Communications cables are not really viable for ships.)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          What, in your estimation, is going to be the purview of the Space Force in its initial incarnation? Are you speculating that they’re going to be given the task of managing satellites and are then going to Distracted Boyfriend meme it, rubbernecking at the new hotness OLBs?

          • bean says:

            Exactly. I haven’t seen a coherent vision for the Space Force yet (probably because there isn’t one), but I assume it would take ownership of all US military space-related assets, including the satellites, the ground stations, and all the tracking stuff. But nobody has explained why that needs to be centralized. The USAF had the strategic nuclear mission as its defining purpose when we stood it up in 1947, and the previous three decades had been filled with prophets of air power declaring that it was the Way of the Future. That hasn’t really happened with space in the same way.

            Add in the fact that the OLBs don’t exist, and you have a recipe for wasting money.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The USAF had the strategic nuclear mission as its defining purpose when we stood it up in 1947,

            Why did you stand her up in 1947? She maybe never got over it. ;_;

          • Dan L says:

            @ bean:

            I haven’t seen a coherent vision for the Space Force yet (probably because there isn’t one), but I assume it would take ownership of all US military space-related assets, including the satellites, the ground stations, and all the tracking stuff. But nobody has explained why that needs to be centralized

            I’m sympathetic to the misalignment concerns gbdub brings up below, but in the short run I find I agree with your argument here. I have difficulty imagining a world where we won’t want to have a mature Space Force several decades down the line, but now seems very premature.

            There’d been more talk about creating a Space Corps under DoAF, which I could see as an effective move in a few years… but I can’t see a compelling argument for why now and why a full service branch, besides naked politics.

          • cassander says:

            @danl

            a space corp under the DAF is more or less what’s under discussion, and that’s part of the problem. It gets you all of the problems of a separate service, but without the benefit of getting away from the air force’s pilot centric culture and concerns. And they’re not even giving them the ICBMs, which for me is the bare minimum you need to make a space force minimally helpful at this point in the game.

          • Dan L says:

            @ cassander

            My impression is that the current administration’s intent is (was?) to create a whole new service branch. Whereas a subordinate Corps wouldn’t have nearly as many complications, but would still have some power to prevent the AF from pilferingneglecting the Navy’s satellite money.

          • cassander says:

            @Dan L

            The terms here get a little…trinitarian. the of department of the Navy, has two services (the navy and marine corps) in a single department. The last I heard of the proposed plan was to apply that model to the space force within the department of the air force. This strikes me as close enough to neglect the navy, but far enough to create most of the problems of independence.

    • gbdub says:

      Good post, but one thing I was hoping you would address is whether the current system is inefficient / underserving certain elements. For example, you note that the USAF runs most satellites but the Navy is a bigger user – is the USAF underserving the Navy needs the way that it allegedly underserves close air support and air transport (i.e. functions that support the Army rather than fighter jocks)? You talk about the Fleet Air Arm problem in the UK, but is our current system, with much of the “Fleet Space Arm” owned mostly by the USAF, that much different? Is that a problem that a dedicated service could improve?

      The best arguments (which might still be bad arguments) for a Space Force would be:
      1) There is currently unnecessarily duplicated, but not mutually compatible, capability with each armed force (and several 3 letter orgs) owning some space assets. A Space Force might reduce this redundancy, and/or make redundancy useful by unifying standards (note that this would be a reason if the satellites are not in fact easily shared, but the various services might already be doing a good job of sharing, I honestly don’t have a great grasp)
      2) Some aspects of “space warfare” are not being adequately addressed because they aren’t the core function of any of the other services (this was part of the logic for spinning off the AF in the first place, that the Army wasn’t going to adequately handle strategic air power).

      You don’t seem to address 1 at all, and you casually dismiss 2 by saying the only thing in that box could be giant orbiting lasers. But I think there are current (or close to current) technologies that might fall into that bucket – space debris mitigation and anti-satellite warfare (offense and defense, kinetic and cyber) are two I can think of offhand. Enough to justify a whole service? Maybe not, but “giant orbital lasers” might be weakmanning a bit.

      EDIT: Also launch vehicles. Kind of crazy the AF let that languish as much as they did, to the point where our only liquid engine options were 40 year old tech from one company or even older tech from Russia (better soon, but only because a couple billionaires got bored). Our ability to make big solid motors is basically down to one company.

      • bean says:

        I have doubts that 1 is a big option that is going to save lots of money. Jointness has been really big since the 80s, and any differences in current systems are going to be based on actual different needs between the different users. And while there are some areas that could probably do with better funding, the answer is to look at how much money they actually need, not to create a service that will have every incentive to exaggerate how important those things are, and minimize the really valuable stuff.

        As far as I can tell, the US basically lost the capability to make a sensible launch vehicle some time in the 70s, and is just now recovering it. I don’t have a good explanation for this.

        • John Schilling says:

          As far as I can tell, the US basically lost the capability to make a sensible launch vehicle some time in the 70s, and is just now recovering it. I don’t have a good explanation for this.

          That would be the Space Shuttle. Nobody in the 1970s had the ability to make a launch vehicle as omnifantastic as the Space Shuttle was supposed to be, so that program failed to do anything well. Except public relations and politics, which it did well enough that for the next three decades anyone trying to get their launch vehicle front and center in NASA’s plans and budget requests was highly incentivized to advertise it as “Shuttle II” and promise to repeat as many of the Space Shuttle’s mistakes as possible.

          Preferably using the same facilities in the same states and congressional districts, because of political loss aversion.

          • Dan L says:

            Except public relations and politics, which it did well enough that for the next three decades anyone trying to get their launch vehicle front and center in NASA’s plans and budget requests was highly incentivized to advertise it as “Shuttle II” and promise to repeat as many of the Space Shuttle’s mistakes as possible.

            To this day, the worst-best-named design proposal I’ve seen has to be “Deep Space Exploration Shuttle”. Never said that out loud in the marketing meetings, huh?

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